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“For I was hungry and you gave me food.” Matt. 25:35

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A letter from John and Gwenda Fletcher in Congo

Winter 2014

Dear Friends,

In a country such as Congo where 71 percent of the population live below the poverty line, it is only to be expected that the churches are also very poor.  But it may surprise you to know that in spite of their poverty, many, many churches have vital, active ministries among the poorest of the poor that belie their extremely limited resources.

Take, for instance, Tshikaji Presbyterian Church.  This church, being located on the IMCK (Christian Medical Institute of the Kasai) station, serves both the IMCK staff and the surrounding village.  The membership at Tshikaji Pres. is 474 and the average weekly offering brings in $54. But what the congregation of this church lacks in ready cash, it more than makes up for through ingenious income-generating projects!

Pastor Kabue sending his congregation out with a blessing.

Tshikaji Pres. has a list of 72 people—widows, physically and mentally handicapped, elderly—who are unable to support themselves.  To help them, the church provides a monthly allotment of soap, flour, oil and salt.  The congregation, realizing that they could not sustain the necessary level of help through the weekly offering, looked for other ways to generate funds to support the food distribution program.  They recognized there was an unmet need in the community for a grain mill with which to grind manioc and corn into flour, and they determined that if they could get a diesel-powered mill they would be able to help the community and, by charging a small fee, make some money to support the food distribution program.  In 2010 Tshikaji Pres. applied for a grant from the Foundation of First Presbyterian Church in Goldsboro, N.C.  The grant was awarded to another organization, but the FPC Goldsboro mission committee was so enthusiastic about the project that they dug into their budget in order to give Tshikaji Pres. the $2,500 needed to purchase a grain mill.  Since the installation of the mill it has been going nearly non-stop.  The mill produces enough income to cover the expenses of running it (salary of the operator and fuel) with enough left over to contribute significantly to the food distribution program, pay the school fees of seven children whose parents/guardians are on the church’s poverty rolls, and help out with other charity activities at the church.

Another income-generating program Tshikaji Pres. has started is a restaurant to meet the needs of Good Shepherd Hospital patients, families and staff.  The restaurant fills a big need and has proven to be very popular.  In addition to providing economical, nutritious meals for those who can pay, the church restaurant also frequently provides meals for needy patients who can’t afford to buy them.  The hospital staff keeps an eye on what’s happening on the wards and when they see patients who need charity meals from the restaurant, they let the church know.  The labor at the restaurant is all volunteer and after expenses are paid there is money left over to help the church with its many charity activities such as helping with medical bills of indigent patients at the hospital, paying for the interment and performing funeral services of patients who die at the hospital without family members, and helping with the cost of gas for the pastor’s motorcycle when he is called to Tshikaji during the week for a pastoral emergency. (The pastor, Rev. Dr. Simon Kabue, lives at Ndesha—about 18 miles from Tshikaji—where he is on the faculty of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary.)

The women joyfully sing and dance as they give their offering.

It’s not just the “poorest of the poor” who need help, and the church has three different projects for women that help them learn an income-generating skill (bread-making, soap-making and tie-dying fabric).  The revenue from the products made in these projects is divided among the participants except for a percentage that goes to the church to help with charity activities and a portion that is kept aside to provide “seed” money when the women feel ready to open their own individual businesses using the skills learned in the group.

The church also owns three fields that are planted and harvested cooperatively by women of the church.  Part of their produce goes to the food distribution program and the rest is divided among the co-op members, helping them to feed their families. 

And finally, the church has an active evangelistic outreach in the surrounding villages, where it shows “The Jesus Film” and other religious videos.  The equipment for this project (projector, generator, sound system) was purchased with a gift from First Presbyterian Church, Yuma, Ariz., in response to a request for help, but all ongoing costs are borne by Tshikaji Pres. The program is staffed entirely by volunteers and its operating expenses (fuel for the generator to power the equipment and fuel for a vehicle if the host village is not within walking distance) are provided by regular offerings and charity funds raised through the church’s other income-generating projects.

The congregation of Tshikaji Presbyterian Church has offered its five loaves and two fishes—minimal financial resources, ingenuity, volunteer labor, and prayer—and by God’s grace, and with occasional help from U.S. partners, is feeding the hungry in their midst.  We invite you to join them, and us, with whatever your loaves and fishes are—prayer, learning, communication, financial gifts—as we all seek to share God’s love with the people of the Congo.

With our thanks for your prayers and support,
John & Gwenda

jfletcher@gmail.com (or use the link below)
gwenda.fletcher@gmail.com
(or use the link below)

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 110
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